ERIC Identifier: ED463948
Publication Date: 2000-11-00
Author: Greene, Beth D. - Herman, Marlena - Haury, David L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Education Columbus OH.
TIMSS: What Have We Learned about Math and Science Teaching?
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted
during the 1994-95 school year, has been used extensively to compare the
mathematics and science achievement of students and the instructional practices
of schools worldwide. TIMSS followed in the wake of other reports and documents
(National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983; National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics, 1989; 1995; American Association for the Advancement of
science, 1989, 1993; Executive Office of the President, 1990) that have focused
attention on the importance, conditions, and goals of science and mathematics
education. In addition to providing data on the progress of U.S. students
towards national goals, TIMSS has enabled comparisons of some U.S. educational
practices to those of other countries. Tests were designed to reflect the
mathematics and science curricular goals of several TIMSS countries, and
students in both public and private schools were tested three levels: 9 years of
age, 13 years of age, and those in their final year of secondary school.
In the U.S., the TIMSS data have been
used to address five main questions: (1) How does student knowledge of
mathematics and science in the U.S. compare to that of students in other
nations? (2) How do science and mathematics curricula and expectations for
student learning in the U.S. compare to those of other nations? (3) How does
classroom instruction in the U.S. compare with that of other nations? (4) Do U.
S. teachers receive as much support in their efforts to teach as do their
counterparts in other nations? and (5) Are U. S. students as focused on their
studies as their international counterparts? (USDOE, 1997, p. 4).
DATA COLLECTION METHODS
In order to gain a broad picture of
educational systems, several different types of data were collected:
Assessments lasting 90 minutes were administered, with all students receiving
both multiple-choice and free-response items. A smaller number of participants
also completed hands-on assessments.
Questionnaires given to students, teachers, and school administrators focused on
beliefs about mathematics and science, teaching practices, and school polices.
Curriculum guides and textbooks from participating countries were examined to
determine subject-matter content, sequencing, and expected learning outcomes.
In the U.S., Germany, and Japan, selected classrooms of 13-year-olds were
videotaped so that instructional practices could be studied and compared.
Researchers spent three months in the U.S., Germany, and Japan observing and
interviewing educators, students, and parents to prepare ethnographic case
studies. Findings were used to evaluate the educational and social environments
of schooling in the three countries.
Achievement. U. S. 4th-graders scored above the
international average in both mathematics and science, while 8th-graders scored
below average in mathematics. Mathematics achievement among U.S. students seemed
weakest in the areas of geometry, measurement, and proportionality.
Curriculum. The majority of participating countries have a national
curriculum, with only nine, including the U.S., leaving curriculum decisions to
educators at the local or state levels. The 8th-grade mathematics curriculum in
the U.S. seems comparable to the average 7th-grade curriculum for other
participating countries, putting U.S. students a full year behind their global
counterparts at age thirteen. Even though they are falling behind in
mathematics, it is interesting to note that, on average, students in the U.S.
spend more hours in mathematics and science classes than do students in Germany
and Japan. Curricular comparisons with Germany and Japan show that less
high-level mathematical thought is required of U.S. students.
Teaching. Through talking with teachers it was discovered that the primary
goal of U. S. mathematics teachers is to teach students how to obtain answers,
while teachers in other countries are more concerned with helping students
understand mathematical concepts. Also, most Japanese teachers who were observed
practiced elements of the reform movement, while U. S. teachers reported
familiarity with reform principles without necessarily implementing them (USDOE,
Teachers' Lives. U.S. teachers generally have more college education than
their international counterparts. German and Japanese teachers undergo long-term
structured apprenticeship programs, however, and teachers in Japan reported more
opportunities to discuss teaching-related issues than did U. S. teachers.
Students' Lives. Tracking seems to be implemented differently in the U.S.,
Germany, and Japan. Students of differing abilities are typically divided into
separate classrooms in the U.S. and Germany, but in Japan there is no ability
grouping until after testing at grade ten. Also, differences in the content of
mathematics courses were noted among different ability groups in the U.S., while
in Germany and Japan the same concepts were addressed in all groups, with
differences being limited to the depth or rigor of approach.
More homework is given and more class time is spent discussing it in the
U.S., but time spent on homework out of school was about the same for all three
countries. Many of the same distractions are seen in all nations; heavy
television viewing was noted for both U.S. and Japanese students.
For more details about TIMSS and its findings, visit the Website at
In 1999, the Third International Mathematics and
Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R) focused on the mathematics and science
achievement of 8th-graders. With 38 nations participating, the U.S. was able to
compare the achievement of its 8th-graders in the original TIMSS to the
achievement of its 8th-graders four years later, as well as to their
international counterparts. TIMSS-R also included a videotape study of 8th-grade
mathematics and science teaching in seven nations. Preliminary findings include
Between 1995 and 1999, there was no change in 8th-grade mathematics or science
achievement in the U, S.
In mathematics, U.S. 8th-graders outperformed peers in 17 nations, and performed
lower than peers in 14.
In science, U.S. 8th-graders outperformed their peers in 18 nations, and
performed lower than peers in 14.
Among the 17 nations whose 4th-graders participated in the original TIMSS and
whose 8th-graders participated in TIMSS-R, the relative mathematics and science
performance of U.S. students was lower for 8th-graders in 1999 than it was for
4th-graders in 1995.
According to their teachers, U.S. 8th-graders were less likely than their
international counterparts to be taught mathematics by teachers with a major or
concentration in mathematics, but as likely as international peers to have
teachers who majored in mathematics education.
Among U.S. 8th-graders in 1999, 86% reported working from worksheets or
textbooks on their own almost always or pretty often during mathematics lessons,
compared to the international average of 59 %.
A higher percentage of U.S. 8th-graders reported that they could almost always
or pretty often begin their mathematics or science homework during class (74%and
57%, respectively) than their international peers (42% and 41%, respectively).
Finally, compared to international students in 1999, a higher percentage of
U.S. 8th-graders reported having to explain the reasoning behind an idea in most
science lessons, conducting experiments or investigations in science lessons,
using computers in mathematics and science lessons, and attending schools with
Internet access. For more information, visit the TIMSS-R Website at
There is no easy answer to the question of how
to help U.S. students move to the top of the international comparisons, but the
results from TIMSS and TIMSS-R have important implications. The TIMSS National
Research Center suggests: (a) Providing better preservice and inservice
opportunities to enhance teacher knowledge of mathematics and science; (b)
Improving the consistency and focus curricula; (c) Increasing opportunities for
teachers to interact within and across subject areas; (4) Aligning national
standards, curriculum frameworks, instructional methods, and assessment
practices; (5) Eliminating tracking; and (6) Encouraging policy changes that
will support improved curriculum and instruction.
It is interesting to note that despite having greater access to computers,
the Internet, and experiential lessons, a higher percentage of U.S. students
than international students reported working on their own from worksheets and
textbooks in 1999. Clearly, the access to more resources within classrooms has
not dramatically altered routine classroom experiences.
For more information on TIMSS and TIMSS-R, please
visit the following Websites:
National Research Center for TIMSS ustimss.msu.edu
pages at the National Center for Educational Statistics nces.ed.gov/timss
International Study Center at Boston College timss.bc.edu
resources at the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse www.enc.org/topics/timss/
and Science Education Around the World: What Can We Learn From The Survey of
Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO) and the Third International
Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)? www.nap.edu/books/0309056314/html/1.html
summary: A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics
TIMSS Primer (Fordham Report) www.edexcellence.net/library/timss.html
American Association for the Advancement of
Science. (1989). "Science for all Americans." New York: Oxford.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). "Benchmarks for
science literacy." New York: Oxford.
Executive Office of the President. (1990). "National goals for education."
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National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). "A nation at risk."
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National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). "Curriculum and
evaluation standards for school mathematics." Reston, VA: Author.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1995). "Professional standards
for teaching mathematics." Reston, VA: Author.
U. S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and
Improvement. (1997). "Attaining Excellence: A TIMSS Resource Kit." Washington,
U. S. TIMSS National Research Center. "A Splintered Vision." East Lansing,
MI: Michigan State University, College of Education.